Vol 7 No. 29 - April 11, 2007

Anna Maria Island Newspaper Park residents: 'We're not going away'

Anna Maria Island Newspaper Tax protesters unite

Anna Maria Island Newspaper 'One mean-spirited little city'

Anna Maria Island Newspaper Man charged with having sex with youth

Anna Maria Island Newspaper Holmes Beach officer wounded by burglars

Anna Maria Island Newspaper Ad hoc committee meetings held in shade

Anna Maria Island Newspaper Sea Hagg burglarized

Anna Maria Island Newspaper Expanded protection Islandwide for nesting turtles




Park residents: 'We're not going away'

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

CORTEZ - Residents of the Cortez Trailer Park turned their emotions into action on Saturday to protest the proposed sale of their homes to a developer.

Carlos Beruff, president of Bradenton-based Medallion Homes Gulf Coast Inc., offered park owner Butch Howey $10.8 million last month for the five-acre property on the Intracoastal Waterway, which acre property on the Intracoastal Waterway, which also has a marina, a restaurant and a historic community center dating to the 1890s.

After learning of the deal, a majority of the more than 100 residents offered the same amount, but Howey refused to accept it, association President Bob Coulter said.

Emotions on Saturday ranged from fear to betrayal to anger to denial, as residents waved at honking cars and held signs saying "We are the little fish," "Here today, where tomorrow?" and "Pray for us."

"I don't think anybody's really absorbed what might happen," said Danna Gross, who has wintered at the park for seven years.

"We keep hoping that it's not going to happen," said resident Jack Shisler, who retired to the park in 1990 from Ohio.

Some residents who own their trailers and rent their lots for about $400 a month are afraid because they can't afford to buy into nearby parks that sell the lots as well as the trailers. At a nearby Bradenton Beach trailer park co-op, lot shares alone cost up to $105,000.

Even if some residents qualify for $2,750-$3,750 in state compensation for people evicted from their trailers, that wouldn't cover the expense of moving a trailer, resident Connie Morgan said, adding that most of the trailers have additions that make it impossible for them to be moved at all.

"The folks will have to start searching for apartments," said Bill Duffy, who splits his time between Cortez and Massachusetts.

"Like everybody else, we've been scouting around," said Pete Rhodes, 80, whose wife, also 80, is in a wheelchair. They live down the street from his brother, in a trailer his mother moved into in 1959, the year that Harry Howey took over the park. Howey later deeded the park to his son, Butch Howey.

The elder Howey and his wife, both 86, would be evicted along with everyone else if the sale succeeds, to the amazement of Howey's daughter, Linda Johnston.

"They wanted to live the rest of their lives here," she said.

Many said they feel betrayed by Butch Howey, whom they had watched grow up at the park.

"I've known Butch since he was a teenager," said Joyce Reinke, who bought a trailer with her husband in November, and is convinced that Howey knew about the pending sale at the time. "I feel betrayed. If he would just say why he's doing it, it would be understandable."

Her mother, Nora Davis, celebrated her 90th birthday on the sidewalk with her family during the protest. Her great-grandson, Sage Sutorik, carried a sign saying "Please save my great-grandma's home."

If the park is sold, "I will have to stay in Michigan, in the cold," she said.

Many also said they feel anger over the rejection of their offer to buy the park for the same amount of money as the developer, who has no previous ties to Cortez.

While Beruff has not responded to inquiries about his plans for the property, Cortezian Karen Bell, a board member of the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, spoke with him last week, and said he envisions something in keeping with the future county land use designation of light industrial use.

"You would hope people would do the right thing, but what's right for one person isn't necessarily right for another," she said.

Any changes to the future land use designation, for example, to condominiums, would require county approval, Manatee County Commissioner and Cortez resident Jane von Hahmann said, adding that Beruff mentioned a marina storage facility to her.

The residents are considering a lawsuit, Coulter said, based partly on the fact that the park owner gave them the first option to buy when he put the park on the market two years ago. Their offer was rejected then, too.

They also hope that zoning, flood and historical restrictions will aid them in their fight to save their trailers.

A legal battle is not how the park's residents wanted to spend their golden years.

But Cortezians have successfully discouraged developers before, most recently in 2004 when developer Piero Rivolta tried to build a boat/hotel development in the village that residents shouted down as "ugly" and "revolting."

This time, they're fighting for more than just aesthetics.

"We're fighting for Mr. and Mrs. Harry Howey," said Doug Morgan, co-chairman of the purchase committee for the association. "You think we're going away? We're not going away."

Tax protesters unite

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH - Non-homesteaded property owners joined forces last week to review tax reform proposals and share ideas on how to reduce their taxes.

The Anna Maria Island-based Coalition Against Runaway Taxation (CART) and the Longboat Key-based Homeowners Against Runaway Taxation (HART) say the taxation system treats them unfairly.

CART, comprised mainly of business owners, realtors and developers, and HART, comprised mainly of seasonal residents, contend that it's inequitable for non-homesteaded property owners to be taxed at a higher rate than homesteaded property owners, CART spokesman Barry Gould said.

The two groups have joined 11 others in southwest Florida to form the Florida Taxpayers Alliance (FTPA) to fight "taxation without representation," according to HART member Winnie Nelon.

"The people who are impacted are not part of the voting process," she said, referring to seasonal residents.

"I'm not sure we have done enough for the non-homestead homeowners," said State Rep. Bill Galvano, who phoned in to the meeting to take questions from the group of about 100. "The prime issue is the inequity of the Save Our Homes cap, which shifted Our Homes cap, which shifted the burden to non-homesteaded property owners."

The state House, Senate and Governor all agree that tax relief and reform is necessary, Galvano said, adding that legislators are favoring a proposal that bases property appraisals and the resulting tax on income rather than the potential highest and best use of the property.

But the legislative session is half over, and lawmakers can only do so much, he said; ultimately, it's up to Florida's voters to decide.

"To really have reform, it's going to require a constitutional amendment," Galvano said.

True reform requires a reduction in government spending, Anna Maria Commissioner Dale Woodland said to applause.

"If spending isn't addressed… we might get tax relief but we might get hurt in a different way," he said.

Holmes Beach resident Pat McConnell proposed a plan to cut waste in the Manatee County school budget, a large local government expense funded by property taxes.

"We need to reinvent the school system," he said. "We need to do away with bloated government."

CART is organizing a rally in Tallahassee on April 17. For more information, visit www.cartonline.org or call Terri Noyes at 778-0205. For more information on the Florida Taxpayers Alliance, visit www.floridataxpayersalliance.com.

'One mean-spirited little city'

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — One Anna Maria resident is spitting mad about some bushes the city removed from in front of his property and he's posted a sign expressing his dissatisfaction.

"Shrubbery destroyed by the city of Anna Maria because of anonymous complaint. One mean-spirited little city," states the sign in front of Richard Francis' property at the corner of Jacaranda and Gladiolus. "I put that sign up, because I can't get anyone from the city to listen to me," Francis said. "It's just frustrating. I've written letters and met with mayor, but no one will listen. At least I got some of my neighbors to notice what's going on."

Francis said he's only posting the sign intermittently.

"I'm worried that the city will confiscate it," Francis said. "And I'm being sure I post it on my property and not on the city right of way."

In addition, Francis has written to the Florida Attorney General's office seeking satisfaction.

"I live in a small Florida city whom I believe has abused my rights as a full- time resident and citizen of Florida," Francis writes in his letter to Attorney General Bill McCollum. "I have been the victim of selective code enforcement."

Francis states that the city "willfully and carelessly bulldozed/destroyed $2,400 worth of shrubbery and landscaping that bordered my property."

Francis says his shrubs were in line with or behind other plantings on the Gladiolus side of his property and he can't understand why the city removed them.

"My shrubs posed no traffic and no pedestrian safety threat," Francis wrote to the attorney general and to the city commissioners. "My complaint is that they proceeded to destroy my property when it posed no threat to the city. They applied the city code to justify their extreme actions while ignoring other right of way issues. The city has an out of control public works director and code enforcement officer.”

He's seeking the $2,400 he had invested in the plantings.

Generally, a code complaint follows a specific course. First someone makes the complaint, either anonymously or with a signature. The code enforcement officer investigates the complaint and if it is found to have merit, a letter is sent to the property owner advising him of the violation.

Code Enforcement Officer Gerry Rathvon said that she sent Francis a notice last December advising him that his plantings were on the city right of way and were not in compliance with city codes, which require that no hard objects be placed in the right of way and that all plantings be soft and no taller than 12 inches. She also included a copy of the ordinance.

Francis was given some time to correct the violation, according to Rathvon.
According to city code, section 114-21, "uses within the right of way, generally, with the exception of the planting of grass that will not impede the parking of motor vehicles, no encumbrances of any kind such as trees, rocks, bushes stones plantings etc, shall be placed or constructed on the right of way within 8 feet of the edge of the pavement without the written approval of the building official and the majority of the city commission. In the case of plants and other items in the city right of way, a property owner can ask to come before the city commission asking for permission to keep the plantings."

In that same ordinance, the city retains the right to remove any plantings in the right of way with no right to reimbursement.

She said that the city right of way actually extends 18 feet from the edge of the pavement to the Francis property, and all plantings removed were on that right of way.

In further conversations with Francis, Rathvon said he refused to remove the plants and asked her what the city would do.

"I told him the city would remove the plantings, which George McKay did," Rathvon said.

Rathvon is required to act only on complaints. She may not actively seek out violations to the city code.

The city has long allowed anonymous complaints. The topic has been debated several times by the city commission, most recently in January of this year, when the commission voted to continue to accept anonymous complaints. During the discussion about about allowing anonymous complaints the majority of commissioners and staff indicated they wanted to be sure that people felt safe making complaints to the city about violations of the city code.

City Commission Chair John Quam has sent an e-mail to Francis informing him of the city's position on anonymous complaints.

Man charged with having sex with youth

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — A 19-year-old man who was on leave from the Army has been charged with lewd and lascivious acts upon a female under the age of 16, child abuse and aiding a runaway minor after sheriff's deputies found the couple having sex in a wooded area of Anna Maria.

Jack Pollock, of Holmes Beach, apparently knew the woman before he joined the Army and when he returned from boot camp at the end of March, she ran away from home and spent the night with him.

The victim's mother called the sheriff's office because she was concerned that her daughter had bite marks on her body. The mother told them that her daughter had threatened to hurt herself in the past.

Pollock was arrested on the beach when the female's mother, another woman and a deputy found them and the deputy observed the marks, which he called bite marks. The victim said they were the result of a game they were playing.

According to the report, the victim's mother was afraid Pollock would follow her daughter if he got the chance. Pollack was also involved in an incident in September 2006 where he was charged with aiding an unmarried runaway and contributing to the delinquency of a child. That case is still open, according to records on file with the Manatee County Clerk of the Courts.



Holmes Beach officer wounded by burglars

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH - After more than 20 years as a law enforcement officer, James Cumston gave new meaning to the term "off duty" last week when he thwarted a burglary, chased the suspects through the streets of Samoset and traded gunfire with them.

It all began when Cumston heard his neighbor's dogs barking in the middle of the day. He went over to find out what was disturbing the dogs and found two men burglarizing his house.

The two men fled in a Dodge Neon and Cumston called 911 and followed them in his Chevrolet Blazer. During the chase, the suspects fired at Cumston, putting bullet holes in his vehicle and wounding his leg when a bullet fragment hit his calf. The suspects eventually lost Cumston and fled. Police found the abandoned Neon later.

One suspect surrendered to authorities in Georgia and police are searching for at least one and possibly three more suspects.

Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine said he went to the scene as soon as he heard and talked with Cumston, whom he said was a little shook up.

"Even as a police officer, you never get used to the idea of someone shooting at you," Romine said. "He was very fortunate he wasn't hurt worse. There was one bullet hole in the windshield that went right toward his head."

Romine said it could have been a tragedy if someone besides an off-duty officer with a firearm had tried to follow the suspects.

The chase and shootings forced officials at Samoset Elementary and Southeast High schools to shut down the facilities for the safety of the students.

Anyone with knowledge of the suspects can call the Manatee Sheriff's Office at 747-3011 or Crimestoppers at (866) 634-TIPS.

Ad hoc committee meetings held in shade

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA - The city opened up a previously closed committee meeting to the public Monday night after questions surfaced about potential Sunshine Law violations.

The panel, called the Site Plan Review Ad Hoc Committee, met in open session for the first time Monday just prior to a separate meeting of the planning and zoning board.

The session was opened up only after concerns were expressed by The Island Sun newspaper that the public should be allowed to attend any and all of the committee's meetings and be notified in advance of the time and date they would take place.

The committee was formed by Mayor Fran Barford to help review the city's site plan ordinance, which provides criteria for residential and commercial developers in drawing up site plans for their projects.

The committee had met numerous times in closed session and without any notification to the public. Barford said she does not believe that the meetings fall under the Sunshine Laws and therefore did not have to be noticed or open to the public.

"This committee was my own advisory committee and did not have to be a Sunshine committee," she said.

She cited a section of the law from the "Government in the Sunshine Manual," which said: "….. a committee composed of staff that is merely responsible for informing the decision-maker through fact-finding consultation is not subject to the Sunshine Law."

However, the Sunshine Law also states that meetings of elected officials or appointed committees must hold their meetings in the open when those bodies are going to make recommendations to decision-making boards or committees.

There was some question as to whether the ad hoc committee would be making recommendations to either another committee or to the city commission. Minutes from the committee's first meeting Jan. 4 confirmed that recommendations would, in fact, be made to the commission.

"She (Mayor Barford) explained that the Site Plan Review Ad Hoc Committee is a working committee to review the site plan process and to take recommendations back to the city commission as a result of the deliberations and discussions of the committee," said the minutes.

Adrian Harper, of the non-profit First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee, said the committee's meetings clearly should be open to the public.

"You have to look at the function of the committee, " Harper said. "You can call it whatever you want, but any board or committee, whether citizens or staff, that is basically doing the work that the decision making-making body would deliberate, is subject to the Sunshine Law."

Harper cited the section of the law in which the question is asked, "Are advisory boards which make recommendations to committees established only for fact-finding subject to the Sunshine Law?"

The answer in the manual is that committees formed "to make recommendations to the council regarding city government and city services" is subject to the open meeting laws.

Sandy Copes, of the Florida Attorney General's office, agreed.

"Without having all the facts, that certainly sounds like it would be subject to the Sunshine Law, because the committee is making recommendations."

Copes referred The Sun to Attorney General Bill McCollum's web site and his open letter about the Sunshine Law.

"I firmly believe in the principle that government must be accountable to the people," McCollum writes. "The Florida Constitution - the document that sets forth our rights as citizens of this great state — provides that the public has a right to know how government officials at all levels … make decisions affecting our lives. It is how you are able to hold us accountable. As such, the principle of open government must guide all we do."

Copes said that if the public doesn't know a meeting is being held, then they don't know what's going on with their government.

The Sun learned of the committee's existence in March after three meetings had occurred. When approached about the lack of notice for the meetings, Barford stated that the committee was fact finding only and was not subject to the Sunshine Law.

Shortly thereafter, City Attorney Jim Dye researched the matter and, after speaking with the mayor, said future meetings would be noticed and open to the public. However, after two subsequent closed meetings were held, also without notice, concerns were again expressed to the city, resulting in the opening up and noticing of Monday night's hour-long session, where final recommendations were expected to be made.

The committee is comprised of Barford, Building Official Kevin Donohue, City Commission Chair John Quam, City Planner Alan Garrett, citizen Tom Aposporos and City Clerk Alice Baird. City Attorney Jim Dye attended the last two meetings of the committee.


Sea Hagg burglarized

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

CORTEZ - Between $15,000 and $20,000 worth of merchandise was stolen from The Sea Hagg, 12304 Cortez Road W., on April 2 or 3, shop owner Jan Holman said.

The burglary happened after 6 p.m. on April 2 and before 9 a.m. on April 3, she said.

A screen was pried off a side window, and a wooden buoy was thrown in the window, she said, adding that despite the broken glass, the burglar apparently left the same way.

A wastebasket was used to carry off silver and gold coins and jewelry from the showcases, which were destroyed. Nautical instruments also are missing.

"It's mind-boggling," said Holman, who has operated the shop for almost nine years without incident.

No suspects have been identified.

Holman is offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or people responsible for the crime. Anyone with information is asked to call her at 795-5756. All calls will remain confidential.


Expanded protection Islandwide for nesting turtles

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

Turtle nesting commences May 1, and this year for the first time, all three Island cities will enforce measures to protect nesting activities from sunset to sunrise.

"We have a change in our ordinance, and I want to make sure that everyone knows it," said Nancy Hall, Holmes Beach code enforcement officer. "It used to be from 11 p.m. until dawn, and that just doesn't work. The turtles are nesting and hatching earlier, and we have to be sure we can protect them."

Under the terms of the ordinances, beachfront property owners on the Gulf and the nesting areas of the bay must make sure their lights will not interfere with the threatened and endangered sea turtles who nest on Anna Maria Island. Turtles are attracted to light and can become disoriented by lights on the shore.

There are local, state and federal laws protecting the nesting females and hatchlings that can result in large fines.

All three cities also mandate that all beach chairs, tents, volleyball nets, toys and anything that could trap a turtle must be removed from the beach during the overnight hours.

"Any sandy area is nesting habitat," said AMI Turtle Watch Director Suzi Fox. "It doesn't seem like a beach chair would be a problem, but turtles have actually gotten tangled in the chairs and have died."

City of Anna Maria
Anna Maria Code Enforcement Officer Gerry Rathvon, Mayor Fran Barford and Fox met last week to discuss nesting season.

"It was a good meeting," Fox said. "I think this mayor is committed to doing what she can to protect the turtles."

Rathvon said she's ready.

"Suzi and I will go out and check for lighting problems some night between now and May 1," she said. "We'll go down to the waterline, get down low and see what's visible from the beach. We'll notify any property owners of problem lights."

Rathvon said most people are cooperative and get their lights in compliance as soon as they know there's a problem.

"We've been working on getting the street lights changed out so they don't interfere with nesting," she said. "Anna Maria has worked closely with FPL to make the street lights more turtle friendly."

"There may be some problems on the bayside this year because there's more habitat there since the dredging of the Lake LaVista Inlet, but I think most of the property owners will work with us."

Rathvon said overall there's not a big lighting problem in the city.

"I only have about five problem spots, and I'll be working with those owners," Rathvon said.

She will also be out on the beach watching for lawn chairs and tents. Things left out may be removed by the public works department and stored at city hall.

Fox is looking into securing some grants to make signs to go at the beach access points in the city.

"The signs will notify people of what they need to do to protect turtles and also the sea oats," Rathvon said.

Bradenton Beach
Letters have been prepared and are going out to all the property owners, condo association and property management firms this week reminding them that turtle nesting season opens May 1.

"We're reminding people that they have to get their lighting into compliance," Bradenton BeachCode Enforcement Officer Gail Garneau said. "We're taking this seriously."

The city's reminder letter notes that there are federal laws protecting nesting females and hatchlings.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission can fine someone up to $10,000 if it can prove that some killed, molested or hurt or caused by direct or indirect action harm to any threatened or endangered species," Garneau's letter states. "That can include harm from any form of lighting."

Garneau will be doing lighting checks on the beach prior to May 1. She'll notify property owners of any problems.

"We're also going to be making sure that all temporary structures such as tents or lawn chairs are off the beach at night," she added.

Holmes Beach
"We have that big change this year where the rules are in effect from sunset to sunrise," Hall said. "Previously, the rules didn't apply until 11 p.m. I noticed that some nests hatched well before that, so I went to my commission and asked for the change in the ordinance."

The city is sending out a brochure, which includes all the nesting information. Some are going out in the mail, some are going out in the mail, some will be at city hall and some will be available at the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce.

Hall said that for the most part, people are more than willing to comply with the rules.

"Most of the time when there's a problem, people just don't know about the turtles," she said. "They don't have them in Ohio, so they don't know we have them here."

Hall said even when rental agents include turtle nesting information in the rental packets, people don't always read that information.

"I'd say 99 times out of a 100 it's just a lack of knowledge," she said. "As soon as you inform people, they want to help turtles."

Hall said she'd be doing regular checks on the beach during nesting season to make sure all Gulffront property is in compliance.

"We'll also be checking to make sure everything's off the beaches during the hours of darkness," she said. "If someone leaves something, we'll tag it. If it's not removed, public works will remove it."

Hall said she documents everything left on the beach with a photo and a written comment.

"My city works hard to protect the turtles," she said.

Nesting and lighting information
Fox said it's not difficult to comply with the rules.

"To find out if your property may have a lighting problem, go down to the waterline, crouch down and look back towards shore," she said. "If you can see the lights, the turtles can see the lights and they're a problem."

People with questions or problems can contact their code enforcement officer.

"There are safe alternatives," Fox said. "You don't have to compromise human safety."

And all three officers said that there is some grant money available for light shields. Contact your city's code enforcement officer for details.

Some important dates
Nesting season runs from May 1 to Oct. 1.

A special lighting workshop run by the Florida Wildlife Commission, Mote Marine Laboratory and AMITW takes place Sat., April 21 from 8:30 a.m. until noon at the Keating Education building at the Mote City Island campus.
AMITW volunteer training is scheduled for April 26 at Holmes Beach City Hall. Anyone wanting to volunteer must attend.


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